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What’s Behind the Wave of Terror in the Sinai

Posted by vmsalama on November 22, 2013

In just five months, Egypt has suffered more than 200 attacks.
By Vivian Salama
sinai

Writing to a network of followers and potential followers around the world, the Mauritanian-born cleric Sheikh Abu al-Mundhir al-Shinqiti, one of the world’s most prominent jihadi ideologues, described a religious obligation for Muslims to take up arms against the Egyptian army. “The goal of the security campaign that the tyrannical army in Egypt is directing in the Sinai is to protect Israel and its borders after jihadi groups in the Sinai became a real threat to it,” the letter, dated October 17, said. “Jihad in the Sinai is a great opportunity for you to gather and unite under a pure flag, unsullied by ignorant slogans.”

Hundreds of miles from Tahrir Square, the epicenter of Egypt’s tumultuous revolution, the long-neglected Sinai Peninsula has become the frontline for the military’s fight against extremism. Having operated in a quasi-lawless state there for decades, jihadi groups are now finding an opportunity to ride on the coattails of discontent following the July 3 military-backed coup that ousted President Mohammed Morsi, a member of the Muslim Brotherhood, and the interim government’s subsequent neutering of the organization.

Many militant groups see the Islamists’ fall from grace as justification for their claims that the creation of an Islamic state can only be achieved through violence, and not through the moderate political campaign waged by the Muslim Brotherhood following the fall of former President Hosni Mubarak in 2011. In response, the military has launched an unapologetic crackdown in the Sinai in an effort to crush any group or individual that might challenge its authority or uphold the legitimacy of the now-defunct Morsi regime.

While the military declared an end to a three-month state of emergency earlier this month, a strictly enforced curfew remains in effect in Sinai from 6 P.M. to 4 A.M., with military checkpoints commonplace across the peninsula. And while Egyptian tanks were barred from certain areas of the Sinai following the 1978 Camp David Accords, Israel authorized Egypt to deploy two additional infantry battalions to the region after Morsi’s ouster to counter terrorist threats. It did not end there. In September, the military stepped up its campaign to rid northern Sinai of militants, with Army Spokesman Ahmed Ali saying it would be “taking action against terrorists, instead of merely reacting to terrorist attacks.” That same month, dozens of homes were bulldozed and trees removed along the roads from the northern town of Al-Arish to Rafah, the border city with Gaza, according to witnesses and media reports, as the military prepared to create a 1,640-foot-wide, six-mile-long buffer zone around the Rafah border crossing. Schools in northern Sinai began the 2013-14 academic year five weeks later than scheduled amid fears that children would be at risk.

The military’s “heavy-handedness is more out of lack of experience than anything,” said Mokhtar Awad, an Egypt researcher at the Center for American Progress. “If the [militants’] goal is to make the military look weak then they can do that. I always compared [militancy] to a virus—that if it does spread to [the Nile] Delta and Upper Egypt, they won’t be able to control it.” (more…)

HERE ARE SOME OF MY OWN PHOTOS FROM THE 2004 TERRORIST ATTACK IN TABA, SINAI:

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

Israeli Search and Rescue Crews on the scene after an attack on the Taba Hilton in Sinai, Egypt (2004)//Photo by Vivian Salama

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Posted in Africa, Al-Qaeda, al-Sisi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Coup, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Environment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Gaza, Hamas, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Insurgency, Intervention, Islam, Israel, Jihad, Journalism, Libya, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Palestinians, Politics, Protests, Sahara Desert, Sinai, State of Emergency, Suez, Terrorism | Leave a Comment »

The Battle Over Western Sahara Heats Up Over Controversial Development Plans

Posted by vmsalama on October 22, 2013

By Vivian Salama

The Atlantic

Oct. 22, 2013

Off of Africa’s northwest Coast, a long causeway leads from the Moroccan city of Dakhla to a fisherman’s wharf packed with dozens of heavy-duty ships. Men in red overalls soaked in fish innards come and go, carting with them the catch of the day— sometimes crab; sometimes mussels; sometimes 3.5-pound sea bass. Nearby, the fluffy white sand and calm waters of this ocean-front Western Saharan city have been a well-kept secret of European and Australian wind surfers for nearly a decade. The trickle of tourists pales in comparison to cities in the north like Fez and Marrakesh, where visitors from around the world flood the streets to indulge in heavenly cuisine and unique textiles.

Fisherman off the coast of Dakhla, Western Sahara (photo by Vivian Salama)

Fisherman off the coast of Dakhla, Western Sahara (photo by Vivian Salama)

The Western Sahara, a region that’s been locked in a four-decade battle for sovereignty, has long been off the radar of even the most intrepid travelers. The region, which is known to some as “Africa’s last colony,” is at the heart of ambitious development plans by the Moroccan government, which is seeking to boost investments, create jobs, and appease the indigenous Sahrawi population that has long sought independence. “When we do an urban development plan, we do it for the people,” said “Wali” Hamid Chabar, governor of Morocco’s southern-most region, part of the disputed Western Sahara. “Sustainable development cannot happen if you focus on some and leave a segment of the society behind. A development plan that only caters to the elite will not help anyone.”

Shortly after Spanish colonists began to withdraw from Western Sahara in 1975, the region was annexed by Morocco (and briefly, by Mauritania as well), making it the world’s largest and most populated “non-self governing nation,” according to the UN. Morocco says the Western Sahara has always been an integral part of the kingdom and Sahrawis are just as much Moroccan as the rest of its citizens. However, Sahrawis, backed by the Polisario Front liberation movement, have since called for independence from the rest of Morocco, claiming that they are living under occupation. In 1976, as Moroccan forces clashed with Polisario fighters in a bloody guerilla war, the rebel group and its supporters were virtually pushed out of the Western Sahara and into Tindouf, Algeria, where as many as 90,000 people are still living in refugee camps today.

Not all Sahrawis chose to leave the disputed territory, and many have since returned from the camps—the population of the Western Sahara now reaching over 530,000. While clashes between pro-autonomy activists and Moroccan forces still occur in spurts, the region has remained relatively calm since a 1991 UN-brokered ceasefire—with other regional conflict and turmoil often stealing the Polisario’s thunder.

But when Tunisians sent their longtime president Zine El Abidine Ben Ali fleeing into exile in 2010, and millions of Egyptians took to the streets to overthrow Hosni Mubarak, the Moroccan monarchy paid close attention. Within months, the young King Mohammed VI proposed sweeping constitutional reforms with substantial human rights guarantees (although with no limits to his own powers). One significant change recognized Amazigh, the Berber language, as one of the kingdom’s official languages. The new constitution also placed prohibitions on torture, inhuman and degrading treatment, arbitrary detention, and enforced disappearances.

Only six months later, despite efforts to placate the opposition, Morocco’s Islamists achieved a historic victory in the legislative elections, signaling discontent even close to the seat of power. Today, Sahrawis living in the disputed territory continue to sound alarms over unfair treatment and persecution, saying that little has changed since the constitutional amendments were implemented. The government has since redirected its efforts toward economic development as a means for extinguishing any discontent. “Hundreds of our Sahrawi people are missing or were taken into custody by the police without reason and we don’t know anything about them,” says Khalili Elhabib, a Sahrawi human rights lawyer who spent 16 years in a secret northern Morocco prison.  (click here to read more)

Fishing Boats off the coast of Dakhla, Western Sahara (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Fishing Boats off the coast of Dakhla, Western Sahara (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Posted in Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, corruption, discrimination, Economy, Education, Employment, Foreign Policy, Human Rights, North Africa, Sahara Desert, United Nations | Tagged: , , , , , | Leave a Comment »

Baby Steps Toward Women’s Rights in Saudi Arabia

Posted by vmsalama on May 11, 2013

MAY 11, 2013

By Vivian Salama

Daily Beast 

When King Abdullah succeeded his late half-brother to become ruler of Saudi Arabia eight years ago, many believed he brought with him an air of reform. Known for his relatively moderate views, Abdullah promised to achieve a great many changes for women, who were barred from driving and were required by law to seek the approval of a male “guardian” to work, travel abroad and, in some cases, to undergo surgery.

Saudi Women

Muslim women, the king said in a 2011 speech, have given “opinions and advice since the era of Prophet Muhammad” and “we refuse to marginalize women in society in all roles that comply with Sharia,” or Islamic law, the octogenarian ruler added.

This week, as Saudi Arabia marked the eighth anniversary since King Abdullah ascended the throne, according to the Islamic Hijri calendar, the government announced that it would lift a ban on sports at private girls’ schools across the kingdom. It comes weeks after the government made another concession—lifting a ban on females riding bicycles and buggies, albeit in the presence of a male guardian. The decisions were hailed by many reformers as positive “baby steps,” but several major issues continue to stall the women’s-rights movement in Saudi Arabia from celebrating true progress, including the right to drive, the right to operate without male approval or supervision, as well as the right to win custody of a child or legally defend herself in cases of domestic violence.

Women have been fighting for equality in Saudi Arabia long before the rumble of discontent erupted in countries like Egypt and Tunisia. Since regional uprisings began in 2011, the Saudi government, apprehensive that its citizens would join in the call for change, has tried to placate the opposition with concessions in the form of housing allowances, government handouts, and new social liberties. But women say the time has come for real change.

“All these baby steps do count, but they are not enough,” says Aiyah Saihati, a Saudi businesswoman and writer. There is a need for “removing any constraints that make [women] unequal to men in terms of self-determination, be it the need for guardian permits for education, travel, hospitalization, as well as being treated with full citizenship, as men, in rights to housing or citizenship for her children.” (more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, Culture, discrimination, Domestic Abuse, Education, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Internet, Islam, Media, Middle East, Politics, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, Social Media, Women | Leave a Comment »

In the Egypt Independent’s closure, an end of a beginning

Posted by vmsalama on April 30, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Columbia Journalism Review

April 30, 2013

Like many things in Egypt these days, the fight to save the Egypt Independent from termination went viral almost instantly. A cry for help by the newspaper’s editors earlier this year cited “the current economic crisis” as reason for the looming closure of the country’s most highly respected English-language newspaper, as well as the “political limitations manifested in rising restrictions on freedom of expression” since the election of President Mohamed Morsi.

Journalists protest outside the Journalists' Syndicate in Cairo

Journalists protest outside the Journalists’ Syndicate in Cairo

 

“On April 25, after weeks of international campaigns and fundraisers, the executive management of the Independent abruptly pulled the plug on its operations, days earlier than scheduled. A statement from the editorial staff read:

“Four years after the birth of Egypt Independent, the management of Al-Masry Media Corporation has informed our editorial team that our print and onlinenews operation is being shut down.”

Because we owe it to our readers, we decided to put together a closing edition, which would have been available on 25 April, to explain the conditions under which a strong voice of independent and progressive journalism in Egypt is being terminated.

Opened four years ago as an English language division to privately owned Arabic daily El Masry El Youm, the newspaper was one of few that chronicled the real beginnings of the Egyptian revolution, from the economic deterioration to the death of Khaled Said, brutally beaten to death by police in Alexandria in 2010—coverage of which went viral on social media websites, planting the seed for the January 25, 2011 popular uprising.

“This kind of press played an important role in the wave of contentious politics that started in 2005 and onwards,” said Lina Attalah, editor in chief of the now defunctEgypt Independent. The paper’s closure has made headlines around the world, as it represents a blatant setback for a revolution hard fought and now, seemingly, coming apart at the seams.

Like a handful of news organizations in Egypt today, Egypt Independent lured a new generation of journalists that were not schooled in the art of self-censorship, once a necessity to operate safely as a reporter in Egypt. These newly untethered journalists put emphasis on the post-uprising day-to-day struggles, as well as on more mainstream coverage of street battles, sectarian strife, and rape. Most importantly, the paper provided a medium for bilingual Egyptians to speak to people beyond their borders with an intellectual, analytical, nuanced voice, often tackling issues that would otherwise not get attention in the international media. (more….)

Posted in Al Jazeera, Arab, Arab Media & Society, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bloggers, Cairo University, Censorship, Comedy, Constitution, corruption, Culture, Daily Star Egypt, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Freedom of Speech, Journalism, Judiciary, Media, Middle East, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests | Leave a Comment »

Middle East Activists Muzzled and Arrested in Arab Gulf States

Posted by vmsalama on April 5, 2013

April 4, 2013

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

By Vivian Salama

Within hours of being handed a two-year jail term for allegedly insulting the ruler of Kuwait, 27-year old Hamed Al Khalidi turned to Twitter– the very apparatus that got him into trouble—with a poem:

“I said: why prison?

I’m not a thief; I’m not a criminal…

neither deliberate nor accidental.

But when I realized my sentence serves my country,

I began to enjoy prison as though it is paradise.”

gulf activismAl Khalidi is part of a growing list of young activists in Kuwait and across the Arab Gulf being targeted for “electronic crimes”—for voicing the very same longing for freedom, justice, and opportunity as those in countries like Tunisia, Egypt and Yemen, where online activism catalyzed mass street protests. Days before Al Khalidi’s sentencing, the Kuwaiti appeals court extended the jail term of another opposition Twitterer, Bader al-Rashidi, from two to five years on charges that he attempted to instigate a coup and insulted the country’s Emir Sheikh Sabah al-Ahmad al-Sabah. Kuwait, home to the most dynamic political system in the Gulf, has already sentenced some 10 online activists to various prison terms on charges ranging from insulting members of parliament (or the Emir) to inciting protests.

“The government of Kuwait and other Gulf governments have begun to feel the danger of Twitter that toppled presidents and governments in the Arab countries and it is clear from the way they are abusing many Twitter users with these false charges,” said Mohammed Al Humaidi, a lawyer and director of the Kuwait Society for Human Rights. “Most of the Gulf governments don’t have a law specifically linked to electronic crimes, and so this is unconstitutional.” (more…)

Posted in Abu Dhabi, Algeria, Arab, Arab Spring, Arabic, Bahrain, Bloggers, Censorship, corruption, dictatorship, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Iran, Iraq, Islam, Journalism, Khalidi, Media, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Oman, Persian Gulf, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Skype, Social Media, Television, Tunisia, Twitter, United Arab Emirates, Viber, Whatsapp | Leave a Comment »

Bahrain Comes Back to the Streets at Saudi Forces’ Anniversary

Posted by vmsalama on March 17, 2013

(I LOVE the photo linked to this article — courtesy: Mohammed Al-Shaikh/AFP/Getty)

By Vivian Salama

Mar 17, 2013

The Daily Beast (click here for original link)

Two years after the Arab Spring’s protests and Saudi intervention, opposition groups are again clashing with security forces in the fragile kingdom. Are the king’s reforms too little too late?

Pearl Roundabout was once the pulse of the Bahraini opposition—like Cairo’s Tahrir Square or Mohammad Bouazizi Square in Tunis. In the earliest days of the Arab Spring uprisings, it was a vibrant center for self-expression, and saw a wave of protests—and bloodshed—as Bahrainis joined in a regional call for democracy and freedom.

Bahrain picTwo years later, Bahrain’s iconic square is lifeless—sealed off by security forces and torn apart by bulldozers. The pearl monument that once stood majestically at its center is gone, demolished and paved over, with the government saying it was “desecrated” by “vile” protesters. It was even renamed Al Farooq Junction—a tribute to Omar ibn Al Khattab, a historical figure viewed negatively by Shias, the sect of Islam to which the majority of Bahrainis belong.

Despite efforts by the government to erase evidence of any challenge to its authority, Bahrainis spilled into the streets to mark the second anniversary of Saudi-led Gulf forces entering Bahrain to help their ally, King Hamad bin Isa Al Khalifah, suppress a wave of dissent. Dozens were reportedly injured in clashes with security forces Thursday, according to Al Wefaq, the country’s leading opposition party. Police fired tear gas at protesters as a group of youths confronted them with Molotov cocktails. Protests dubbed “Never Surrender” kicked off again Friday.

The government described the unrest as “acts of domestic terror, including the theft and torching of cars, and the street blockades,” according to an Interior Ministry statement. Several policemen were injured in the clashes, the government said.

Bahrain, a staunch American ally and home to the U.S. Fifth Fleet, has lent a unique story in the Arab Spring narrative. King Hamad, a Sunni in the Arab Gulf’s only Shia-majority nation, maintains his authority, often through harsh crackdowns, with the solid support of the West and surrounding Gulf states, which assert that Iran is using Bahraini Shias to infiltrate the Arab world. Saudi Arabia, which is connected to Bahrain via a causeway, has been especially fearful, as it is home to a restive Shia population in its Eastern province. Bahrain, a tiny island in the Persian Gulf, is not wealthy from natural resources like fellow Gulf Cooperation Council nations Saudi Arabia, Qatar, and the United Arab Emirates; it has had to rely on aid from its neighbors since turmoil began in 2011. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Allies, Arab, Arab Spring, Bahrain, discrimination, Dubai, Economy, Education, Employment, Foreign Policy, Iran, Islam, Middle East, military, Mohamed Bouazizi, Politics, Protests, Qatar, Religion, Saudi Arabia, Shi'ite, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates, United States, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

South Yemen Separatists Renew Calls for Secession

Posted by vmsalama on March 1, 2013

by Vivian Salama

Al-Monitor (click here for original link)

March 1, 2013

ADEN, Yemen — With two weeks to go until Yemen’s crucial national dialogue, aimed to set in motion transitional imperatives like writing a new constitution and scheduling parliamentary elections, tensions are rising between North and South Yemen as Southern separatists renew their calls for secession.

aden violence

Separatists in Aden, the capital of South Yemen, engaged in deadly clashes with security forces and pro-unification protesters, mainly from the Islamist Islah party, claiming that the state has — and will continue to — ignore their pleas for basic rights. Tents returned this past year to Martyrs Square in the Mansoura section of Aden, and the Southern flag has grown increasingly visible on the streets and in graffiti art. Slogans spray-painted on the walls of government buildings read “Freedom for the South.”

Separatist demands have long been a major facet of Yemeni politics, however the popular uprising that ousted President Ali Abdullah Saleh last year ignited a wave of protests among Southerners who previously faced persecution for expressing sentiments that undermined the country’s delicate unification. Yemen’s new president, Abd-Rabbu Mansour Hadi — a Southerner himself — made a surprise visit to Aden this week to hold talks with the leaders of various factions. However, Hiraaki [Southern Separatist Movement] activists dismissed the visit as political theater, pointing to visits Hadi made to the United States, Saudi Arabia and other Gulf States in his first year in office, before ever visiting the Southern capital.

Sensitivities over Southern secession were particularly apparent during Hadi’s visit as police checkpoints erected large Yemeni flags and Southern flag graffiti was partly painted over to show only the red-white-and-black colors that represent the unified Yemen flag.

Separatist graffiti in Aden, Yemen (photo by Vivian Salama)

Separatist graffiti in Aden, Yemen (photo by Vivian Salama)

“We were expecting things will change with President Hadi’s visit, but it didn’t calm anything,” Maged Mohsen Fareed, 22, a college student and Hiraak member who has been jailed repeatedly for his activism. “It is as if he gave security forces green light” to attack.

Originally scheduled for mid-November, Yemen’s National Dialogue has been repeatedly delayed, more significantly due to differences Southerners had over the proposed groundwork. Some leaders with the Southern Separatist Movement, known as Hiraak, have said they are willing to join the talks from the start, but more hardline factions, led by Ali Salem al-Baidh, have refused to engage, saying that their demands have not — and will not — be met by Sanaa. The talks are now scheduled for March 18, however, the recent tensions in Aden have raised concerns that even those who are willing to take part in the talks will be swayed against it.“To us, there is no dialogue with murderers and we will not talk with murderers,” said Abdulhameed Darwish, a Hiraaki activist whose brother Ahmed was gruesomely tortured to death in police custody in 2010, sparking fury across the South. “Until today, my brother’s case is still on hold in the courts. Nothing has changed. The situation is going from bad to worse.” (click here to read more….)

Aden, Yemen (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Aden, Yemen (Photo by Vivian Salama)

Posted in Aden, Al-Qaeda, Ali Abdullah Saleh, Arab, Arab Spring, corruption, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Human Rights, Middle East, South Yemen, Terrorism, Yemen | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Sexual Terrorism

Posted by vmsalama on February 13, 2013

A sad sad trend recently in this country I once regarded as extremely safe.

Feb 13, 2013

By Vivian Salama

The Daily Beast (click here for original page)

Protesters around the world demonstrate against the sharp rise of mob attacks and gang rapes in Cairo. By Vivian Salama

With reports of mob attacks and gang rape growing alarmingly common in Egypt, angry protesters demonstrated in Cairo on Tuesday, calling for urgently needed protection and harsher punishment of perpetrators of sexual assault.

Though the protest in Cairo’s Talaat Harb Square was peaceful, the slogans were hard-hitting. One banner displayed a warning that rhymed in Arabic: “Sexual assault doesn’t pay. Try again—we’ll cut your hand.”

Sex TerrorConcurrent with the Cairo protest, solidarity demonstrations were held in cities around the world, including Amman, Copenhagen, Melbourne, Washington, D.C. and London to denounce the rise of “sexual terrorism”  in Egypt.

“There is a virus afflicting the brains of some of these men,” said Karima El Gharib, 35, a political activist who attended Tuesday’s protest in Cairo. “These sick people think that if they scare the women, we will stop our men from going to the protests. We are the country’s women: your sister, your mother. Try and say ‘boo’ to us now and we will destroy you!”

Last month, the United Nations issued a statement expressing “deep concern” after more than two dozen women reported they had been sexually assaulted in Tahrir Square—in some cases, with extraordinary violence—during demonstrations marking the two-year anniversary of the Egyptian revolution.

The activists, though, know that raising awareness of the issue is an uphill battle.

On Monday, the human rights commission for the Islamist-dominated Shura Council held a press conference, provocatively stating that women are to blame for sexual assaults against them. Women “know they are among thugs,” said Adel Afify, a member of the committee representing the ultra-conservative Asala Party. “They should protect themselves before requesting that the Interior Ministry does so. By getting herself involved in such circumstances, the woman bears 100 percent responsibility.” Another member of the council alleged that the tents at protest sites encourage “prostitution.” (more…)

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, discrimination, Domestic Abuse, Economy, Education, Egypt, Elections, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Human Rights, Islam, Journalism, Media, Middle East, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Politics, Protests, Rape, Salafi, Sexual Assault, Sexual Harassment, Women | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Canal Cities and the Cost of Neglect

Posted by vmsalama on January 27, 2013

Some brief thoughts on the unrest in Port Said this week…. While the verdict against a group of soccer hooligans (who many allege to have been innocent) sparked the riots, there are a great many underlying economic and political issues that may have driven people in the canal cities to spill out into the streets this week.

The Porto World resort in the northern Egyptian city of Ain El Sokhna appears suddenly in the desert like a magnificent mirage. Miles of rolling sand dunes come to an end where this colossal complex begins, with pristine swimming pools and fountains and luxury villas imbedded in the sandy hills. It was one of the pet projects of the Hosni Mubarak administration, which had vowed to invest billions on tourism and real estate development as a means for boosting economic activity, embarking on projects that often involved intricate planning and engineering to get water and other resources to manmade oases like this one.

Some 55 kilometers away, the canal cities of Port Said and Suez offer a shockingly contradicting reality. Homes are dilapidated and roads unkept. Water supplies at nearby wells are filthy from dust and pollution continues to pile in the streets. Government neglect is part and partial of life in these cities — home to more than one million residents — and resentment has grown in recent years as many watched the government pour its resources into the country’s sprawling tourism resorts, while leaving its own citizens begging for the most basic services.

At least 50 people were killed in Port Said over the weekend following death sentences against 21 soccer fans in connection with the death of 73 soccer fans in a post-game riot last year. The verdict sparked an uproar as family and friends raided the prison in Port Said where the defendants were being held, claiming that the true perpetrators have gone free and that security forces rounded up a bunch of innocent boys to save face. The upheaval prompted President Mohamed Morsi to declare a state of emergency in the three canal cities — Port Said, Suez and Ismailia.

Port Said was the sight of a 1999 attempted assassination on former President Hosni Mubarak. Since then, many residents I’ve spoken with claim that they were cut off —  alienated from the many basic services that their fellow Egyptians in Cairo or Alexandria may have enjoyed. What’s more, one of Egypt’s most frequented Free Zones sits in Port Said. While it had the potential to bring a great deal of commerce-driven-business to the canal cities, many claim it was neglected and poorly promoted, and residents could not reap the benefits. Residents of Port Said and Suez who are old enough to have lived through the wars with Israel in the 1950s and 60s feel they did a great deal for their country. These cities were regarded as a frontline in those wars, sine the Suez Canal was greatly at the heart of tensions after then-President Gamal Abdel Nasser declared it a nationalized asset of Egypt. Much was lost in those wars and many had hoped that the government would repay them for their sacrifices. They are still waiting.

Indeed, events of the past two years have caused many economic and social issues to surface, but the grievances of the canal cities run deep and residents there say their fight for justice and equality has lasted the greater part of the past 50 years.

Posted in Arab, Arab Spring, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Egypt, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Israel, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Muslim Brotherhood, Port Said, State of Emergency, Suez, Tourism | Leave a Comment »

Egypt’s Cities Wage Satirical Secession Campaign

Posted by vmsalama on December 14, 2012

The Daily Beast (click here for the original link)
by Vivian Salama

A burly wall of a man in a leather jacket and traditional ankle-length jellabiya stood guard outside the city council headquarters in Mahalla El-Kubra, a large industrial city along Egypt’s Nile Delta. As we approached the two-story complex, the poker-faced, no-nonsense guard asked for a visa—that is to say, a traveler’s document for entering the city of Mahalla, located two hours north of Cairo. Like any perfectly timed comedian, he waited just long enough for concern to peak on our faces before letting out a thunderous laugh.

“You don’t need a visa!” he said, his belly still jiggling from laughter. “Our independence is a concept, but Mahalla is open to all Egyptians!”

Alex

As Egypt’s latest political crisis over an Islamist-proposed constitution threatens to tear the country in two, several of its largest cities have found unity online once again, triggering a sovereignty campaign in which several cities—including Alexandria, the country’s second largest—would secede from the nation, albeit satirically. It began after hundreds of protesters enclosed around the Mahalla City Council, hanging signs for the “Front of Revolutionary Salvation” around town and, on city buses, for “Mahalla Airlines.” The photos went viral within days and a secession campaign was born, with photo-shopped images later circulating on Twitter of men carting in the chair for “The Republic of Mahalla” into the U.N. General Assembly. And on Friday at protests outside the Presidential Palace in Cairo, a sign on one tent reads: “temporary headquarters for the embassy of Mahalla.”

Mahalla, a city of about 450,000, was home to the first “April 6″ secular revolutionary protests and has been the scene of several uprisings and labor protests since the fall of Hosni Mubarak last year.

The six-month old regime of President Mohamed Morsi has come under fire in recent weeks, after the president shocked Egyptians with a decree granting him sweeping powers and immunity from judicial interference. The constitutional committee, which had been toiling on a revised version of the country’s political framework these recent months, is also protected under the new decree. After almost three dozen committee members walked off in protest, the Islamists who remained wrapped up the draft constitution in haste and presented it to the president. Egyptians will vote “yes” or “no” in a referendum that begins on Dec. 15. (click here to read more…)

Posted in Arab Spring, Arabic, dictatorship, discrimination, Economy, Education, Elections, Employment, Foreign Policy, Freedom of Speech, Hosni Mubarak, Internet, Islam, Media, Middle East, military, Mohamed Morsi, Mubarak, Muslim Brotherhood, Newsweek, Politics, Religion | Leave a Comment »